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Top Shelf: Tired Rangers not done yet
By Dan Di Sciullo, NHL Editor
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - The New York Rangers have every right to be incensed at the ridiculous playoff schedule handed them by the league office.
The club played its fifth game in seven nights on Monday, becoming the first NHL team since 1989 to play that many tilts in a one-week stretch.
But complaining about it isn't going to do the Blueshirts any good, so it's time for somebody to step up and push the club through a tough situation.
New York finds itself down 2-1 to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference semifinals, and on Tuesday the Rangers have a rare day off to figure out how to get back in the best-of-seven battle.
To recap: The Rangers played Games 6 and 7 of their opening-round series against Philadelphia on April 29 and 30, had one day off before opening its conference semifinal series in Pittsburgh on Friday and then played Games 2 and 3 against the Pens on back-to-back days this past Sunday and Monday.
Talk about a recipe for disaster.
The Rangers won Game 1 in overtime by a 3-2 score but haven't scored a single goal since. They were shut out by Marc-Andre Fleury in Games 2 and 3 after firing a combined total of 57 shots at the sometimes shaky Penguins goaltender.
After Game 3, New York head coach Alain Vigneault alluded to the scheduling disaster while stopping short of using it as an excuse.
"We were forced to play a stupid schedule, five games in seven nights, and I'm real proud of how our guys handled it," Vigneault said. "We put our best foot forward in each and every game ... we played a real strong game (tonight)."
Considering the Rangers have gone the last 120 minutes of game action without scoring a goal, it may seem silly for Vigneault to say his team put its "best foot forward in each and every game," but he's not wrong. Although they're holding a 2-1 lead in this set, it's not like Pittsburgh is dominating the Rangers into submission.
If anything, the Blueshirts are currently their own worst enemy, especially when it comes to the power play. New York hasn't scored with the man advantage since Game 2 of the opening round and has failed to convert on 34 straight power-play opportunities.
In fact, if New York could have entered Game 3 with a 2-0 lead in the series if not for the club's power-play woes. Pittsburgh won Game 2 despite giving the Rangers three power-play opportunities in the first 10 minutes of the game, and, of course, New York failed to capitalize on it.
One also could make the argument that the Rangers wouldn't have been stuck in its scheduling predicament if they'd been able to convert more on the power play in the first round. New York thoroughly dominated the Philadelphia Flyers in the conference quarterfinals but let them hang around far too long in the series thanks in part to an inability to score on the man advantage.
As bad as it looks on the power play, New York still has done a lot right in the playoff battle versus the Pens. Henrik Lundqvist, one of the best goaltenders in the world, has been at the top of his game for the most part.
Lundqvist and the Rangers have managed to hold a Pittsburgh team that boasts offensive weapons like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and James Neal to just seven goals through three games. If New York can manage to keep that up while also adding a timely goal every now and then, it has a chance to make this a difficult series for the Metropolitan Division champions.
In Game 3 on Monday, the Rangers outshot the Penguins by a 35-15 margin but still went down without a goal. For those folks interested in so-called "fancy stats," New York also owned Pittsburgh in the Corsi department with 69 shot attempts to just 38 for the Pens. So, possessing the puck was not an issue for the Rangers in Game 3, and it's something the club can build off heading into Game 4 on Wednesday.
"We had the puck a lot more in their zone and more possession," said Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh. "We should feel good because we had a lot of good looks. It's just a matter of crashing the net and making it hard on (Fleury) as much as we can."
While nobody has stepped up in the goal-scoring department for the Rangers of late, Rick Nash is someone who has been a no-show for the entire playoffs when it comes to putting the puck in the net.
Nash, who led New York with 26 goals during the regular season, has four assists in 10 games this postseason but has yet to light the lamp. In fact, the former Columbus Blue Jackets star only has scored twice over 26 career playoff games and he's quickly earning the reputation of a guy who can't deliver when it counts most.
Of course, the scoring issues are not all Nash's fault. Martin St. Louis has two goals in this postseason, but none after Game 3 of the Philadelphia series.
Whether it's Nash, St. Louis, Brad Richards or even speedy winger Chris Kreider, who could possibly return from over a month-long absence due to a broken left hand in Game 4, somebody will need to deliver the offensive punch needed to compete with the Pens. If somebody doesn't step up come Wednesday, then this could be a short series.
The Rangers have every right to be irate about their busy postseason schedule, but it does them no good to wallow in self-pity. If New York loses this series, a few years from now few people will recall anything about the schedule. What they will remember, however, is the Penguins advanced while the Rangers went home.
New York needs to keep it simple on Wednesday and try to play one complete game to give it a chance to even the series. After all, even tired teams can manage to score an ugly every now and then.
05/06 17:11:15 ET